Words on Film: The Sell Out

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For Words on Film this month Jinnie Lee can barely contain her enthusiasm for boy-genius, local funny-man, media elite Simon Rich.

Forget the main features of hard-core journalism, I read the New Yorker for the comedy writing in the Shouts & Murmurs section. They’re not all great—actually, most of them are weak in my opinion—but I’m still very much interested in knowing what the editors at one of the country’s most high-minded intellectual magazines think of as “ha ha.” But if there’s one thing that I, an anonymous girl in Greenpoint, and the Ivy League-educated staff of the New Yorker can agree on, it’s that Simon Rich is a really funny guy. Very funny.

Babyfaced Rich has been contributing to the New Yorker for many years, probably since his Harvard years, and now at 29 years old he’s a downright pro. He’s also published five books, was hired as SNL’s youngest staff writer, was a screenwriter for Pixar, and probably consults on a million other projects in addition to writing his own stories. In essence, he’s a writer of all trades. Much like one of those Swedish beat-genius pop songwriters, Simon Rich is similarly really damn good at creating “hits.” That’s because he follows a generally fool-proof storywriting formula — the three main acts, the usual plot points, the raising of the stakes, the climax, and the happy ending — but damn, he works it effortlessly. He also doesn’t use any difficult language. In essence, his stories are easy enough for a child to read but they’re cleverly full of adult humor. It’s genius, and that’s probably why Pixar was a no-brainer fit for Rich. His collection of short stories The Last Girlfriend on Earth is being worked into a TV pilot. His first novel Elliot Allagash has been optioned by famous movie-dude Jason Reitman. My current favorite What in God’s Name is the most perfect romantic comedy novel I’ve ever read (and I don’t even like romantic comedies).

Earlier this year in January, Rich wrote Sell Out, a four-part meta-comedy novella for his loyal publication the New Yorker, and the whole thing lives online for your reading pleasure. (See what I did there with the “Instant” theme of this month’s BSMC?) Sell Out is the latest acquisition from the Simon Rich™ brand, this time by funny powerhouse duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The comedic besties who brought us such treasures like Superbad and This Is The End will be producing the story into a feature film with Rich adapting his own work for the silver screen. Sell Out is about a 27-year old guy named Simon Rich who meets his 27-year old great-great-grandfather Herschel. Herschel has just come back to life in the now devastatingly-hipsterfied Brooklyn after being preserved in brine after an accident at the pickle factory where he worked many generations ago. It’s a classic tale if you think about it: Herschel’s the clueless new guy in town (Williamsburg) who suddenly turns into the most popular guy in the hood. Simon, a hot shot writer, slowly loses himself as his barely educated great-great-grandfather becomes a successful pickle entrepreneur. Romantic relationships and familial trusts are tested and sacrificed, but all for the sake of comedy in the end. I don’t really need to say this Sell Out is really hilarious and obviously well worth the read.

Simon Rich has often gotten criticism for being successful based on nepotism (his dad is NY Times op/ed staple Frank Rich) but I say, WHO CARES? He’s super funny, super talented, super ambitious, and super young-looking (the dude’s got great skin). To any non-funny frowny-face haters, might I suggest they laugh a little? Maybe start with a Simon Rich piece? Sell Out might be a bit much on the first go for anyone not already a fan (did I mention the main character’s name is Simon Rich?) but there’s a plethora of good stuff out there. This story Unprotected, told from the view of a condom is very good and reads like a “Mature Audiences” Pixar short film. It’s a solid intro to the world of Simon Rich. I’ll say it again – take it from me, a random person living in Greenpoint, and a bunch of literary-famous New Yorker editors: We are not wrong about Simon Rich!